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Dingman v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 22, 2015

Patrick K. Dingman, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Patrick Dingman, which challenges the Social Security Administration’s decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 17.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court vacates that decision and remands for further consideration.

BACKGROUND

On February 28, 2011, Dingman filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2006. (Tr. 143-49.) The disability onset date was later amended to December 1, 2009. (Tr. 28.) After Dingman’s claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, he requested a hearing, which the ALJ, Thomas Cheffins, held on October 3, 2012. (Tr. 28-56.) On October 23, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Dingman not disabled. (Tr. 10-21.)

In evaluating whether Dingman was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] (Id.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Dingman “did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of June 1, 2006 [sic] through his date last insured of December 31, 2011.” (Tr. 15.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Dingman suffered from the severe impairments of sleep apnea, narcolepsy, cataplexy, hypersomnia, and obesity. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration’s listed impairments. (Tr. 16.)

At that point, the ALJ made a determination of Dingman’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [2] concluding that Dingman could “perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) except [he] cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl[, ] [and] must avoid concentrated exposure to . . . irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases, moderate use of moving machinery except motor vehicles, and moderate exposure to hazardous conditions.” (Tr. 16.) The ALJ thus determined at step four that Dingman could not perform his past relevant work as a ceiling installer. (Tr. 19.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that jobs Dingman could perform despite his limitations exist in significant number in the national economy. (Tr. 20-21.) Given this analysis, the ALJ concluded that Dingman was not disabled. (Tr. 21.)

The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-3.) Dingman filed the complaint underlying this action on July 28, 2014, seeking this Court’s review of the ALJ’s denial of benefits.[3] (Doc. 1.) The matter is now fully briefed before this Court. (Doc. 17, 25, 26.)

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

A reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ’s decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). “Substantial” evidence amounts to “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

Here, Defendant Commissioner of Social Security concedes that the ALJ’s decision “is not supported by substantial evidence, ” and therefore both parties “agree the ALJ erred and that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment.” (Doc. 25 at 2.) The parties disagree only “as to whether the Court should remand for further proceedings or for an award of benefits. (Id.) As such, “[t]he sole issue before this Court is remedy.” (Id.)

II. Remedy

Dingman requests that the Court remand his case for an award of benefits. (Doc. 17 at 23.) Remanding for an award of benefits is proper in certain circumstances pursuant to the Ninth Circuit’s “credit-as-true rule, ” under which the Court should remand for benefits where:

(1) the record has been fully developed and further administrative proceedings would serve no useful purpose; (2) the ALJ has failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting evidence, whether claimant testimony or medical opinion; and (3) if the improperly discredited evidence were ...

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